Leveling Down: The Story of Hentai RPGs

Chapter 1. No Pictures. FAQ Off! Questioning Begins.

Before I begin, let me warn you that there will be no screenshots pasted into this article for obvious reasons. Wouldn't want everyone to get distracted, now would we? There will be, however, links to the games' Rap Sheets, from which you'll be able to comfortably access the screenshot section.

It's anything but easy to write about such a controversial and decidedly non-mainstream topic, so instead of a calm, scientific preface I decided to start right away with a FAQ that will hopefully satisfy the reader's initial curiousity. Here we go.

Q: Why did you write "hentai"? Why not "adult" or "mature"? What is "hentai" anyway?

For two reasons. First, because this article is specifically about Japanese RPGs with explicit sexual content. Any game with manga/anime aesthetics and sexual content is called "hentai game". Hentai (変態)is a Japanese word (derived from the Chinese "biantai") which means "perverse". The Japanese themselves usually call such games eroge (short for "erotic games"), another victim of the Japanese acronym addiction that brought us pearls such as pasokon ("personal computer") and rorikon ("Lolita complex". Don't ask).

I don't include Western RPGs with explicit sexual content. I'm not even sure there is such a thing. Some consider The Witcher such a game, but there is nothing explicit there beside some tasteful pictures of naked girls. CD Projekt can always say they haven't done anything Rubens or Toulouse-Lautrec haven't done before. Japanese eroge developers can hardly say that. I mean, I doubt that Rubens knew about tentacle sex.

The second reason is my dislike of the words "adult" and "mature" when applied to video games. Because they are always applied in a wrong way. You can cut off people's hands with a chainsaw? Mature game! You can see a squid raping a cute teenager? Adult game! This leads to a frightening conclusion that adult and mature people do nothing but cut off each other's limbs and summon squids to violate each other's daughters. Yes, yes, I know it just means "this game is not for people under 18", but I still don't like the sound of it. You know what I mean?

Q: How explicit should the sexual content be in order to qualify as hentai?

Nudity in context of sexual situations do the trick. Innuendoes and skimpy clothes and an occasional naked breast (like in Cosmic Fantasy) don't qualify. Even though the line is sometimes a damn fine one. There are non-hentai versions of hentai RPGs (GunBlaze), which complicate things. Nowadays it's easy to spot a hentai RPG when you see one (usually because it has crappy graphics and lame gameplay), but it hasn't always been the case.

Q: Why only RPGs? Why not hentai games in general?

There are too many hentai games. 99% of them are pure crap in every possible way. 99.9% have no gameplay whatsoever. Them being called "games" is just an excuse for guys who like staring at hand-drawn sex pics to delude themselves into thinking they are also playing a game. Well, they are not.

Except when they are playing a hentai RPG. Because a RPG is a game, nolens volens. Good or bad - it has to have a gameplay system, and a pretty complex one, more complex than for example in an adventure.

Q: Why would I want to play hentai RPGs? Just for the pictures?

No, not just. Of course it can be a reason, too, but you'll be sorely disappointed if that's the only thing you are looking for: hentai RPGs tend to have much more gameplay than adult scenes. Surprisingly, some of these games have good gameplay and good stories. Besides, they capture the whole "endure - get a reward" mechanics pretty well. Allow me explain: when I play a good Western RPG, I enjoy the actual process more. I don't expect any rewards, the gameplay itself is the reward. When I play a Japanese RPG, I'm willing to endure simplistic gameplay in order to watch a beautiful cutscene and be touched in that melodramatic, soap-opera way. I want to spend time with lovable characters and experience their happiness and sorrow, again the same way people identify themselves with soap-opera heroes and cry when a character dies or gets divorced for the 17th time.

So hentai RPGs are damn honest about this "suffer-reward" mechanics. Crawl through a dungeon, beat hundred random enemies, fight a difficult boss... see a beautiful naked girl! That's not always worse than "see the characters engage in badly written emotional dialogue". I always thought the most genius ideas were the simplest ones.

Continued: Chapter 2. The FAQ goes on. It Gets Personal! Stay With Me.

Table of Contents: Leveling Down: The Story of Hentai RPGs